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I have a friend with a long history of developmental delays, personality disorders, and physical and emotional abuse. This has left her with a number of challenges in relating to other people, one of them being that she has no empathy. In other words, no one’s emotions are real to her but her own.

She also has financial difficulties, and from time to time I judiciously help her out with “loans” which I never expect to be repaid. Recently, I ran into her at the grocery store. She immediately told me she had been feeling badly about not paying back the $200 she borrowed from me six or eight months ago.

Then she asked if I could loan her $20.

The moment I gave her the $20, she asked if I could give her $10 more.

The point of this story is not whether or not I’m enabling my friend by giving her money. Possibly, but these cases can be complex.

The point of this story is that you and I recognize this to be pretty socially unacceptable, unempathetic behavior. We would not expect it from anyone over the age of 16 and unhampered by the kinds of challenges my friend has.

So why do we keep doing it to our donors?

Why Simply Using “You” More Won’t Inspire Donors to Give

Much has been made of the importance of using the word “you” in direct response copy. You’ll often hear the recommendation to go through your copy with two highlighter pens, marking each instance of “we/us language” and of “you language.” I do this myself sometimes; it’s a great visual training tool.

Simply using the word “you” a lot does not mean you’re doing relationship fundraising. Especially if you’re only talking to your donor’s wallet. “Because you gave, little Johnny has enough to eat today. Will you make another generous gift now, maybe even increasing or doubling the size of your last gift, to show how much you care?” Lots of “you” in there. Not much relationship.

How to Create Copy that Talks to Donors… Not Their Wallets

So how do can you improve your fundraising copy in a way that makes donors feel like you’re actually talking to them? Here is a simple exercise I’ve adopted that has made a tremendous difference:

  1. Get the multi-pack of highlighter pens. One color for when you’re talking to your donor’s wallet, as in the above. Another for when you’re talking to your donor’s heart, inviting them to relate the experiences of others to their own. Another for when you’re talking to your donor’s sense of social responsibility … the values your donor shares with your organization … the list goes on.
  2. Fill your letters with color. Let your donors be more than a wallet—or an ATM. They’ll thank you for it, and frankly, you’ll feel better about your fundraising.

P.S. Be sure to designate a highlighter pen for detailed program descriptions and lists of statistics. Then throw that one away.